Sunday, 29 November 2009

23.11.09 - 24.11.09 Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

Dunedin was first founded by Scottish settlers, one of whom was Robbie Burns' nephew. They decided the scenery and climate reminded them of home and proceeded to build a traditional Scottish city centred around an octagonal street system with a statue of Robbie Burns adorning the centre octagon and a long thoroughfare passing through the middle named, on one side, Princes Street and, on the other, George Street, as in Edinburgh, Dunedin's Scottish counterpart. We make a compulsory detour to view the steepest street in the world in one of Dunedin's northern suburbs. (pic to follow) It's named Baldwin Street and, with a gradient of 1 in 2.86 it features in the Guinness Book of Records. We decide to leave the Tank parked up at the bottom, just in case, and walk up the concrete stairs at the side. It's pretty impressive and it must be quite a sight when, every year during the Dunedin Festival, participants in the famous Gutbuster competition have to run up and down the street as fast as they can.
One of the natural attractions of the Dunedin area is the Otago peninsula which sits just east of the city and it surrounded by waters rich in marine life- seals and sealions, penguins and albatross. We drive out to Sandfly Bay
towards evening because we've read that the endangered yellow eyed penguins, whose population today stands at only 300, make their nightly journey up the beach and over the dunes to their nests and it's quite a spectacle. The Department of Conservation have built a viewing hut for this specific purpose because the penguins are very shy creatures and will not come ashore is they see people on the beach. This could be fatal for their little chicks because they'll go hungry. At this time of year though the eggs are being incubated by the mother and the male penguin comes ashore to relieve his mate and take over the duty. We wait in the hut for a significant amount of time and the light starts to fail and then, sure enough, a penguin swims ashore and starts waddling and jumping over the rocks on the beach. He then proceeds to clamber his way slowly up the tussock covered hillside to the very top where he enters his nest and his mate comes out in his place. We wait again for any more but eventually give up and head back along the beach, which is incidentally dotted with gigantic snoozing sealions.
It's important not to get too close these big daddies as they have an awesome jaw strength and can move very quickly across the sand when they want to. We spot a couple more penguins swimming but we choose to leave the beach briskly in case they're too frightened to come ashore.

Fleur's Place - notice the large green mussels!

the very weird Moeraki boulders

the Queen at Oamaru Victorian fete and some interesting 'old' bits hidden away in one of their warehouses

20.11.09 - 22.11.09 Aoraki/ Mount Cook National Park

(Glentanner Holiday Park)

After leaving our community campground in the sweet little mountain village of Mount Somers we continue on our journey south through the Canterbury district and on to Mackenzie Country. We are accompanied the entire way by ranges of scenic mountains to the right hand side of our route and when we reach Mackenzie Country, the scenery becomes more spectacular. The turquoise lakes of Tekapo
and Pukaki
are filled with glacial moraine which, when ground down by the water, gives them this unique colour. They are glacial lakes which lead tantalisingly up to the peaks of the Southern Alps beyond, including the highest of them all, Mount Cook.
Mount Cook or Aoraki, it's Moari name, is the tallest mountain in Australasia at 3,750 metres. It's an impressive peak, however, having trekked to over 5000 metres in Peru and seen the Andean range we don't reckon it's quite on the same par! (I begin to realise we were pretty spoiled by the awesome scenery we encountered in South America). Minas Tirith, the city from the Lord of the Rings, was set in the plains of the Mount Cook valley though, so we're pretty 'psyched' (as they say) by this and the fact that we meet a real life ork from the original movie! He now works at the alpine gear store in the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre but was conscripted to become one of the 300 ork extras when Peter Jackson and his film crew came to town. The whole valley was closed off and, I would guess, virtually all the local men would've been invited to don makeup and costume and try out their roars for the camera. Unfortunately the weather doesn't want to do justice to the glacial scenery in front of us, clouding the tops of the ranges pretty much all day and throwing down plenty of rain, so much so that we're forced to spend most of our day in the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, watching a 3D film of a scenic flight over Mount Cook and a couple of Planetarium movies on the stars of the Southern Hemisphere night sky and space travel. We learn that Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand born first man to conquer Mount Everest, used Mount Cook and surrounding ranges as a training ground for his larger expeditions and has had a bronze statue of himself as a young climber erected in front of his alpine centre at the base of Mount Cook. Although it rained and there were gale force winds, we were lucky enough first thing in the morning, to make a quick pilgrimage to the snout of the Tasman Glacier and it's glacial meltwater lake, Lake Tasman before the rains got too heavy.
We climbed over moraine boulders through the glacial valley where the glacier has been retreating. This was obvious from the large stone cliffs on either side of the valley, showing where the gigantic glacier had pulled away from. The Lake itself displayed many icebergs some of which are actually the tips of a mass of ice under the ground stretching 200 metre deep in places. We were unable to make the trek up to the neighbouring glacier in the Hooker Valley because of the weather so instead we opted to get on the road south to Dunedin, stopping at Omarau, a pretty Victorian town which, as luck would have it, was in the middle of it's annual Victorian fete. The boys on the gate were dressed in kilts, so we felt we had to attend! The town's history started with a trade in refrigerated shipping which brought in enough wealth to construct beautiful limestone buildings in the Victorian style. The fete was full of locals dressed in Victorian finery, traditional Victorian games and fine foods, music and even a competition, judged by the king and queen, for the best Penny Farthing cycler! The weather by the East coast had turned warm and sunny so, when we stopped at the famous Fleur's Place in Moeraki for seafood and ultra fresh fish, we felt like we were on holiday again sitting at our white tableclothed spot overlooking the small fishing harbour. I braved a shellfish hot pot, with large green mussels, scallops and welks and, as I'm not normally a seafood connoisseur, I think I did pretty well, to finish most of it! Greg thoroughly enjoyed his blue cod fillet but wouldn't touch the tiny cockels on the side of his plate, re-iterating his gastro motto 'No insects, no molluscs!'

19.11.09 Just South of Arthur's Pass National Park- Canterbury

We wake up to a stunner of a day today so we take a ramble up the banks of the impressive Kakairi Gorge
with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and explore the gravel tracks of the mountain ranges to Lake Coleridge,
Mount Sunday
(where they filmed 'Edoras' for Lord of the Rings) and Lake Heron, each as stunning as the last, a real wilderness.

17.11.09 - 18.11.09 Christchurch

Christchurch sits in vast flat plains which lead up to the edge of the Southern Alp mountains. The surrounding roads run in a grid system with miles without any bends. The city itself is centred around the Cathedral Square where the 'old' gothic cathedral dominates and from here it's a quick stroll down to the Avon River which winds it's way alongside Hagley Park and down to the Captain Cook and Queen Victoria statues.
There's punting on the river and the chaps steering the boats are suitably clad in stripy shirts and straw boaters to complete the quintessential English look.
The river with it's humpback bridges and weeping willows is very reminiscent of Cambridge and the traditional Tudor or Gothic houses in the town are treasured and more often than not have been converted to upmarket restaurants. The history of Christchurch and it's founding relates back to the first British settlers in the area wanting to create a little slice of home in their new found colony. At that time the wealthy Brits were very interested in the riches New Zealand had to offer. The sealing gangs and whalers of previous decades had taken full advantage of the vast numbers of marine mammals in the area, eventually dessimating their populations. Seal furs were very much sought after by the aristocracy in Britain and subsequently the whale products of lubricant and oil were desired for the machinery of the industrial revolution, so gangs of convicts, most from the penal colonies in New South Wales, were dumped in New Zealand bays to fend for themselves and come up with the goods. Many were left for years on end, some unable to survive the undeveloped environment or ending up in skirmishes with local Moari. Others were more successful and married into Moari families which led to Moaris becoming involved in the sealing and whaling pursuits and becoming more knowledgable about the foreign world that lay outwith their shores. Previous to these encounters Moari had no reason to believe they weren't the only ones to inhabit the planet. They had descended from the Polynesian explorers who first landed in New Zealand in the 1300s but since then they'd developed their own distinct culture incorporating the natural environment around them into their beliefs. When James Cook first landed the Moaris were already a sophisticated society, farming and living off the land and sea, with their tribal communities living alongside each other, sometimes at peace, sometimes at war. Their core aim in life was the pursuit of mana (pride) and often this would result in grievous deeds if they felt their mana had been threatened. Equally if they themselves had commited a falsehood retribution would have to be claimed. Captain Cook presented himself as a well-meaning adversary and, because he'd equipped himself with an on-board translator in the form of a Polynesian Queen, he was able to avoid misunderstandings which had, in the past, caused fatal consequences to his predecessors. (Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer, had attempted to land in Golden Bay a century earlier, but a misunderstanding offshore when the Moari canoes which had come out to meet him blew their horns, he took it to mean they were going to attack, so he struck first with his cannons. The Moari retaliated and managed to board one of his dinghies, murdering three men and kidnapping one of them back to shore where they killed and ate him.) Needless to say Abel Tasman, although he was the first European to navigate to the lost island of Oceania, left hurriedly and never set foot, leaving the way open for future explorers. So Captain Cook sailed round the island, charting it's geographical landmass, and encountering the native peoples on a much more amiable and respectful front. He is said to have been hailed almost as a god by those Moaris he came into contact with. Unfortunately though, his reports of abundant sea life and other natural resources such as flax and timber led to an influx of less well-meaning businessmen and entrepreneurs keen to reap the rewards of this new rich land. Which takes me back to where I began- Christchurch. Christchurch is clearly anglophied with it's traditional church buildings and the references to English town life such as the old wooden trams, which now solely operate a city tour system, and the punts on the River Avon.
contemporary Moari carving studio
However, references of Moari tribal life continues- we notice one of the major redevelopments in the city centre is being managed by the Ngai Tahu tribe building company, once one of the strongest tribes in the area, still obviously holding some power and the continuing practice of Moari woodcarving as displayed in the local arts and crafts centre. It is interesting to note however, that the South Island of New Zealand may have in fact become French, because only two months before the British arrived on the Banks Peninsula near Christchurch, Jean de Surville, a French explorer, had landed and had only just sailed back to France to claim his victory and collect the ingredients needed to start a new colony, when the British beat him to it and put their flag in first.
a quaint garden in Akaroa
We visit the little town of Akaroa whose French residents, descended from the original French settlers, obviously feel that the town belongs to them as they've named most of the streets starting in Rue, the B+Bs are Maisons and even the public loo at the town's petrol station is a toilette. It's a very quaint little place with wooden chalets surrounded by pretty rose gardens and we're a tad disappointed by the drizzling rain descending on the bay and obscuring our view. So we head out of the peninsula and back through the plains towards the Southern Alps to our campsite at Mount Hutt.

15.11.09 - 16.11.09 Kaikoura Alpine Pacific Campground

Crayfish capital of New Zealand, Kaikoura is abundant in marine life with tours going out to whale watch, swim with dolphins, swim with seals and albatross spotting. We don't unfortunately manage to sample a local crayfish, it's damn expensive, but we do indulge in blue cod and chips. The white meat is melt in the mouth- very fresh. The town of Kaikoura itself is nothing particular to speak of, a pleasant line of shops and cafes, accommodations and tourist offices, but it's the alpine backdrop of the snowcapped Kaikoura Inland range that really sets this town apart.
On one side turquoise blue Pacific Ocean, on the other, mountainous peaks that line the horizon. We have a magnificent view of this from the spa pool in our complex! but also at night the stars provide an impressive show- they're so bright here. We're lucky to have such sunny weather so we decide to try and make the most of it by signing up for a 'Dolphin Encounter' cruise and swim. This turns out to be one of the best decisions yet because we find the experience of swimming with dolphins magical. We're kitted out with extra thick wetsuits, hoods, masks, snorkels and fins and boated out to the location where the pod of Dusky dolphins are known to be. We're warned prior to our trip that the Dusky dolphins are completely wild and there is no guarantee that they'll want to swim with us so try not to be too disappointed if they don't. But we were in luck- they were very willing to get in about us, circling us, diving under and round us in small groups.
underwater pic
We'd been advised to make noises through our snorkels to entice and entertain the dolphins and move around in circles and be active in the water so that they would want to come and play with us. So, the observers on the boat must've had a right laugh at us all in the water. It was extremely cold though and I thought I might not be able to handle the freezing water on my face, but as soon as the dolphins began to swim around me and I could see them clearly through my mask, all thoughts of being uncomfortable were gone and I just enjoyed the show. At times I would squeal through my snorkel because they'd swim up just beneath me and turn so that I could see them full length and almost make eye contact with them. And the squealing noises would only make them more playful. I tried swimming after them on occasion but soon lost them as they moved so quickly through the water, twisting and turning. It was an out of this world experience, being able to view them at such close range. Before long though, the captain was blowing the horn to beckon us back to the boat to change out of our wetsuits and warm up. We were treated to a display of about sixty dolphins racing alongside and underneath the front of the boat as we sailed along.
They 'performed' for us, doing jumps out of the water and slapping themselves on the water's surface, flips in the air and one even did a one and a half turn back flip right in front of us, which I unfortunately didn't manage to catch on film because I was so excited and couldn't stay focussed on it! Dusky dolphins are said to be the most acrobatic of dolphins and they certainly put in a wonderful display for us today.

13.11.09 - 14.11.09 Picton and the Marlborough Sounds

South Island

We catch the ferry to the South Island at 8am and it takes 3 hours of plain sailing across the Cook Strait to reach Picton, the entry point to the south of New Zealand. The ferry passes through the Queen Charlotte Sound, which is part of the Marlborough Sounds, an impressive array of inlets and hilly peninsulas which were formed when the sea level rose after the last ice age. Picton is a small resort town, dominated by the ferries which arrive and depart several times every day. We set up camp in a local site where many of the campers are full time residents. We get chatting with a couple in the communal kitchen who've come up to Picton from down south for building work- he's of Irish descent and she's Moari. They're staying at the camp for six weeks. She's very keen to encorage us to see the South Island and again they turn out to be really friendly people. There seems to be a recurring theme here! It's a beautiful day in Picton so I decide to change into shorts, however, in the space of four minutes, from when I go into the changing room to when I come out, a gale force wind started up and the sky completely clouded over! I find Greg fighting with the awning on the van as he's being blown around, left right and centre. It sure is true, that the New Zealand weather can be changeable.
The following day we drive out to Queen Charlotte Drive, a road renowned for it's scenic views of the Marlborough Sounds, and it doesn't disappoint. The water is turquoise against an azure sky and the tiny beaches and bays make for an impressive view all the way along the winding ride. Greg spots an isolated peninsula on the map which does seem to have a minor road/ track leading to it so we make a break for it, changing into 4x4 mode for the gravel underneath. We get as far as we can, away from civilisation, and come upon a metal gate. Although it doesn't say it's private property. However we decide not to risk it and instead take the winding route down the hillside to the beautiful bay below. At the bottom there's a sign asking anyone who wishes to drive on to call in at the first house. It's one of these situations where you expect the owner to be rude and say 'get off my property' but she was very nice and, yes, we weren't to go any farther but she pointed us in the direction of her neighbour's campsite and wished us well on our way. We found the campsite at the adjacent bay and it sure was an idyllic spot. She'd told us they were away for the weekend but wouldn't mind us camping up for the night. We were the only ones there and had the whole place, including the beach, to ourselves. Wow, a private beach where we were the first to create footprints that day. I insisted on swimming in the water since it was our very own beach so, even though it was too cold for Greg to brave the water, I donned my wetsuit and in I went.
Later we attempted to erect the awning but soon enough the gale force winds picked up again and it was impossible to keep it stable. So we ended up cooking our bowl of noodles under the shelter of the shower block with the winds swirling round us in the pitch black. Even though the weather had thwarted our plans of a relaxing evening I was still so excited to be out in such an isolated place.
The next morning we high-tailed it back along the winding roads of the peninsula, saying goodbye to our haven at Titirangi Bay and headed down the coast through the Wairau Plains (aka Marlborough Wine country) and down towards Kaikoura. We first glimpse the impressive inland Kaikoura mountain range as we come round a headland and we have to stop to take a photo and take in the breathtaking panorama. The snow-capped peaks fall to short plains which are immediately followed by the bright blue of the Pacific Ocean. Fantastic. And, to top it all off, just by the roadside, a little further down, we stop to see a very large seal colony basking on the rocks in the afternoon sun.
There are hundreds of them, playing and diving in and out of the water. The sea around Kaikoura is rich in marine life due to its unique mix of hot and cold waters due to the deep underwater canyons just off shore which cause an upsurge of food from the depths.

11.11.09 - 12.11.09 Windy Wellington

Wellington is a small city but it's by no means lacking in cosmopolitan goings on with loads of restaurants, bars and art galleries. Even on the street we see some excellent wall graffiti and other quirky artistic statements like these woollen hearts which someone has decided to weave on this otherwise dull fencing.
They certainly brighten up the place. We spend a couple of nights here before catching the ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton in the South Island and end up using most of our time in the excellent Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand.
a stuffed kiwi at Te Papa
a Moari carving at Te Papa- the eyes in Moari carvings are made of Paua shells

10.11.09 Tongariro Alpine Crossing- NZ Great Walk

At the first of the volcanoes

(19.4km across Tongariro National Park)
Mount Ngaruhoe- aka 'Mount Doom', Green and Blue Lakes

It's freezing this morning, up in the mountains of Tongariro National Park. We camped at the Base Camp site last night in order to be up early enough for our shuttle to the start of the crossing, but it's really cold up here and it was the first time we weren't completely comfortable in our van. A hot cup of tea from the base camp cafe sorted us out though before we boarded the minibus. The good thing is the reason it is so cold is the sky's completely clear of clouds so it should make for a sunny day today. And, sure enough, as we reach the start of the walk the sun's already breaking over the side of the mountains adding some much welcomed warmth. But there's still plenty of frost on the ground where the sun hasn't quite reached. The first part of the walk passes by Mount Ngaruhoe, aka Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings. It's covered in snow and it's not long before we're ascending up past the snow line and into the mountain plateau. The saddle between the ranges is a stunning no-mans land, evidence of a violent volcanic history all around us. The route that the lava originally took is very obvious on the side of the mountain and the huge black boulders strewn across the plains show the extent of the eruption. There is in fact a small vent of steam halfway up the face and walkers are warned, prior to embarking, to be wary of any volcanic activity and to leave the area if any serious activity occurs. We reach the highest point of the crossing and an incredible vista presents itself on the other side- the Red Crater.
This is a vast volcanic crater which is charred black and red and has huge unnatural looking rock formations made when the molten lava erupted and shaped the entire area. It's flanked by another cone-shaped volcano and is draped behind by a panorama over the ranges and into the far distance. The biting cold wind forces us to pick up the pace down the far side of the slope to the striking Blue and Green lakes.
A strong sulphurous smell reaches our noses so we know we're in a volcanically active area for sure. The lakes sit at different levels on the mountainside rich in mineral colours, all the brighter by the sun's gaze against the piercing blue sky. We pass through them, up the second ridge and begin our final descent to the end point of the walk. This is the most arduous part for me because my legs are starting to give way and the path keeps going on and on, but we make it and the view across to Lake Taupo isn't half bad. All in all an exerting but stunning day's walk.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

sorry, there's been no blogs for a while- will sort this situation out asap! However, if you've got a spare two days up your sleeve, you could have a quick look at our pics at the link below. We are a bit behind in uploading them, but most of South America is on there

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

the 'Artist's Palette' and Emerald Lake at Wai-o-Tapu

08.11.09 Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Reserve

examples of the amazing scenery at Wai-o-Tapu thermal reserve

Lady Knox geyser erupting

the 'Devil's Cauldron'

the 'Artist's Palette'

We made an early start from our DOC campsite on Lake Rerewhakaaitu (a peaceful spot near the volcano Mount Tarawera, which shaped the Rotorua area when it erupted in 1886) so as to reach Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Reserve before Lady Knox geyser blows at 10.15am (it's 'persuaded' to go by a park ranger with some 'special soap'). The whole area is active when we arrive, clouds of sulphurous steam rises through the fir trees and reminds us of scenes from Jurassic Park. We take the signposted walk round the park passing huge craters bubbling mud and steam to the first main attraction so-called 'Artists Palette' for its vast array of mineral colours in its waters. It's a run-off lake from 'Champagne Pool' (it's bubbling surface is reminiscent of champagne, but I bet it wouldn't taste like it- arsenic is present in the orange powder edging the lake along with other toxic chemicals). 'Champagne Pool' sits atop a giant fissure in the earth's crust which drops more than 60 metres. Nearby sits another off-shoot named 'Devil's Cauldron', which I can only describe as a crater full of pea soup, the colour was so acid green. We're impressed by further craters oozing fluorescent yellow sulphur and dark grey mud pools spouting and burping. As time approaches 10 we all make our way to Lady Knox geyser for the 10.15 show. A park ranger explains that soap triggered the geyser when convicts from a local prison decided to wash their clothes in the warm thermal waters and sure enough they got a big surprise when their underwear shot 20 metres into the air. Now, every day, Lady Knox is made to go off for the viewing public and it's quite a sight but I have to move away from where I'm sitting at first because I get showered with cold water when she blows. After the excitement dissipates we finish off our tour of the park taking in the apple green-turquoise lake and the vast mineral terraces formed by the run-off water. As it's a boiling hot day we can't resist a dip in the thermal spring nearby, a spot that attracts many 'dippers'. It's a pleasant sensation of hot and cold as its a meeting point of two separate rivers.

07.11.09 Whakatewara Forest

We say goodbye to Rotorua and head out to Whakatewara Forest of Californian Redwood, Fir and Eucalypt for a 3 hour hike to burn off some of those calories. It's a beautiful warm, sunny day and the forest walk proves very pleasant.

Ohinemutu- (brush with the NZ Mitchell clan)

Henry Mitchell's gravestone at Ohinemutu St Faiths Church and the 'Tai Mitchell' ceremonial bell housed nearby at the sacred Moari meeting house

example of intricate Moari carving on the side of the Te Arawa tribal meeting house

Back in Rotorua town we take a stroll down to Ohinemutu Moari village next to the lakeshore to view the Christian church which has Moari wooden carvings inside and the Te Arawa tribal meeting house. As we approach the church the caretaker comes over to us and starts explaining about the gravestones, pointing out the biggest one belonging to Henry Walker Mitchell. I tell him my maiden name's Mitchell and he's delighted by this because it turns out there were many Mitchells who lived in this area, in fact it was renowned as Mitchellville. He tells us Henry Mitchell was a crook though, because he took a lot of Moari land round the lakeshore as payment for surveying it! So, in actual fact, the Mitchell name is tarred out here. He had a big family who took over the township and many married local Moaris. He tells us his wife is one of the last generation of Mitchells and he's so proud to have found another of her namesake, we are taken to be introduced to her and their son, with whom I exchange email addresses so as to keep in touch. They've done a lot of historical research into the Mitchell family and they promise to send me a copy so as I can read it and show other Mitchells! (dad) He proceeds to give us an unofficial tour of the Moari site he maintains including his own house, which sits on the site, to show us his thermally heated outdoor bathroom and the wooden flagpole engraved in Moari and English used in procession when the Royal family visit, which he keeps in his garden shed! We get shown round the convention centre where he cooks hangi (traditional Moari meal) for hundreds of people whenever there's a special event (he steams most of the food using the boiling hot water from under the ground) including the official Royal visits. And the impressive Moari meeting house, normally closed to the public, which is intricately carved with totems lining its walls, interspersed with tortura reed weaves. We feel extremely privileged to have been shown round by him but I think he's enjoyed just as much telling us all his many stories about the history and his family, because he's found another Mitchell!

Kaituna White Water Rafting (Kaitiaki Rafting Co.)

one of many Grade V rapids
We opt for another bout of white water action down the Kaituna river, 10km outside Rotorua, where the ultimate highlight is a 7 metre drop waterfall rapid. As it turns out 7 metres is more like 3.5 but it's still enough to write home about and enough to get the adrenalin high going. Our raft guide Joel does his best to hype it up, reciting an ancient Moari prayer for good luck and getting one of our crew members to throw a symbolic silver fern leaf over her shoulder into the water and, if it lands green side up, we'll survive. It's our turn so we paddle hard up to the edge then jump down into the raft, tuck in our chins and hold on to the ropes for dear life. We go over headlong and get sucked into the splash pool before emerging victorious. We made it!
Thereafter follows some more pretty serious rapids, each one a significant drop and we get the option to float over one swimming, holding on to the boat and another standing up inside the boat- 'the first one to sit down buys the first round of drinks'. Another fun-filled rafting experience (it's becoming one of my favourite activities) and its on to the relaxing Wia Ora Mud Bath and Spa just around the corner. The volcanic mud is renowned to contain many healing properties and certainly I notice my skin to be very soft afterwards, but you aren't to stay in for more than 20 minutes and, to be honest, the sulphurous smell gets quite overwhelming. We sweat it out in a hot pool with a view out to the thermal reserve behind us from where the mud is gathered for the baths and the water is pumped for the pools.

05.11.09 - 06.11.09 Rotorua

Kiwi Paka Backpackers Hostel camp ground

a drain in Rotorua- notice the steam venting from it!
Rotorua is the most active volcanic town in New Zealand with thermal pools, geysers and bubbling sulphurous streams covering the entire area. It sits on the banks of Lake Rotorua, one of the biggest inland water sources in New Zealand and is surrounded by pretty, innocent looking green countryside but who knows what's happening only inches below the earth's crust. Our camping ground is located near Kuirau Park which has many thermal pools, bubbling away, producing continuous hot steam clouds. This area of parkland was the most recent to have significant activity and erupted only in 2003. Inhabitants of Rotorua don't seem to be too concerned by threats of boiling hot explosions- they have developed ways of harnassing and controlling the endless source of heat energy below their feet. Most houses have a water pipe directly pumping hot water into their taps and under floor heating for free, which keeps their houses toasty warm 365 days of the year.

04.11.09 Coromandel Peninsula

Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove

After stopping back in Auckland at Bamber House again, for one night, to pick up our registration document for the van and do our laundry, we decided to tackle the Coromandel Peninsula as our next port of call. And what drew us there first and foremost was the alluring idea of Hot Water beach on the eastern coast, where thermal hot springs beneath the sand bubble to the surface and, if you dig deep enough, you can create your very own spa pool. The waters are most active two hours before and after low tide which today occured at 3pm so when we arrived just after 1pm, we were perfectly timed to catch the heat, but also the many other tourists who'd had the same idea. Everyone'd hired a spade each from the local shop cum cafe to dig their own private pool but, as we found out, the springs were only really hot at certain points so we ended up gatecrashing someone else's pool. They didn't mind though and we proceeded to get to know them pretty well, chatting away as the hot water warmed our tootsies, sometimes proving too hot to handle (it can reach 58 degrees celsius). It was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, being bathed in hot water overlooking a stunning beach setting and later on, when the tide starts to come in, our handmade pools will be washed away, a virgin beach awaiting the next horde of tourists tomorrow. We got dried off and headed up the coast a few km to another tourist magnet, Cathedral Cove, so-called because of the way the sea waters have formed a tunnel in the volcanic cliff which resembles a cathedral vault.
view of Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve
Cathedral Cove
The cove itself was picturesque but the panoramic views of the Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve with its many rocky islands and the fern forest walk down to Cathedral Cove proved stunning in themselves. Foxgloves lined our path down through Pukuhatawa fern forest. The Pukuhatawa fern is the country's national emblem, used on the All Blacks shirts notably, and is justly so, as it appears almost everywhere along the forested roadsides and is very pretty, especially when seen against the sun's rays. Our road driving so far has encompassed mainly green scenery against blue skies with the odd bright red mailbox or corrugated iron roof punctuating the landscape. The range of greens is diverse with a huge variety of foliage from fir, kauri, fern, grass, gorse, palm and thistle.